KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The Trump administration has told thousands of Nicaraguans who are living in the U.S. with temporary visas that it's time to go home. Many have been here for at least two decades. They got special status after a hurricane. That special status is called TPS or temporary protective status. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly from Central America and the Caribbean, live in the U.S. under TPS. And now all of them face an uncertain future. NPR's Carrie Kahn is with us now. She covers Central America and the Caribbean from her base in Mexico City. Hey there.
CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Hi.
MCEVERS: So first, just tell us about the Nicaraguans. What does it mean that the Trump administration is not extending TPS for them? When do they have to go back home?
KAHN: They have until January of 2019. After that, they will no longer have permission to work and live in the U.S. And we're talking about 5,300 300 Nicaraguans. They were granted TPS, like he said, after Hurricane Mitch destroyed much of Central America. And that was back in 1998.
MCEVERS: So we're talking about this hurricane that happened a long time ago. The Department of Homeland Security is saying, well, conditions have improved since then. These people can go home.
KAHN: Well, yes. It has improved if you look at the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. And Nicaragua, you know, now has one of the highest growth rates in Central America, even above stable Costa Rica. It's run by the leftist government of Daniel Ortega. And he didn't even weigh in about extending TPS. There is warning from activists of deteriorating democratic rules in his multiple and contentious elections of Ortega. But Nicaragua's not experiencing the turmoil and violence of neighboring El Salvador or Honduras.
MCEVERS: The DHS did not make a decision about TPS recipients from Honduras. There are about 83,000 of those. What happens to them?
KAHN: Well, the DHS secretary interestingly said she needed more information about conditions back home, and she wasn't prepared to render a decision right now. So since there was no decision, they get an automatic six-month extension. And then it will be taken up again. But the willingness of the administration for Nicaraguans and previously for immigrants from Sudan signals that they're not willing to keep extending this TPS, which had become routine by both Republican and Democratic administrations.
Immigration hard-liners have long criticized this program, Kelly. They say it was meant to be a temporary visa program, letting people stay after the immediate danger of wars, disease outbreaks or natural disasters. And once they've passed, they should go home. They've condemned what they say has turned into this long-term backdoor permanent residency for hundreds of thousands of people.
MCEVERS: And people from El Salvador - they're set for their TPS to expire in January. They are by far the largest nationality benefiting from the program - some 200,000 people here in the U.S. How are conditions in El Salvador?
KAHN: Well, Salvadorans got TPS after a devastating earthquake. That was back in 2001. So, of course, the infrastructure has recovered. But El Salvador is experiencing conditions that are also being experienced in Honduras. There's high murder rates, high violence against women, gangs, extortion. And Salvadorans, too, have been living in the United States for decades. One of the biggest concerns that I hear in the region - and, actually, I was just in Haiti, where Haitian immigrants in the U.S. are also facing a return and a cancellation of their TPS - was from the amount of money that immigrants in the U.S. send back.
And I sat down and spoke to the Haitian president. And he said such a move would be devastating to his country and that remittances, the money that immigrants send back to Haiti from abroad, make up 30 percent of the country's GDP. That's just staggering. In El Salvador, that number's 17 percent of GDP that immigrants are sending back. They're sending back billions of dollars home every year. And without it, officials back in those countries warned that it will be destabilizing for the region.
MCEVERS: NPR's Carrie Kahn in Mexico City. Thank you.
KAHN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.